National School Choice Week: Education freedom and how North Dakota can do more

Happy National School Choice Week (NSCW)! It’s that time of year again to celebrate effective K-12 education options available to children and families across the country — from traditional public schools, public charter schools, and public magnet schools to private schools, religious schools, online schools, and homeschools.

As a nonpartisan, nonpolitical celebration, NSCW is an opportunity to shine a positive spotlight on all forms of school choice and parent empowerment. American Experiment North Dakota stands in support with NSCW’s National School Choice Foundation in their belief that “every child deserves an effective, challenging, and motivating education.”

New and expanded educational choice options are popping up in states across the country, giving millions of students from all backgrounds eligibility to access the learning environment that works best for them.

North Dakota can do more.

It’s time that same access is available for North Dakota students who are being left behind in their current school. North Dakota provides K-12 students and their families very little school choice. No charter schools, no magnet schools, no private school choice program, and only inter-district public school choice via open enrollment.

Efforts to expand choice in the state are currently underway, with a school choice bill recently introduced in the House (Bill No. 1532). The bill would bring the first private school choice program to North Dakota, helping students access a learning environment that best meets their needs and ensuring such access isn’t just for the rich.

Here’s how the bill would work:

North Dakota families with K-12 students eligible to attend a public school who participate in the choice program get reimbursed between 15 to 30 percent the cost of tuition at an eligible nonpublic school — private, religious, etc. Home schools are not included.

The program funds would be distributed by the superintendent of public instruction to the participating school, who would then use the dollars to offset the enrollment/attendance costs the program participant or parent would otherwise be obligated to pay.

Participating schools would not be subject to additional regulations from the state outside of what is necessary to enforce the program’s financial and administrative requirements. This limitation includes protecting participating schools from being required to alter their creed, practices, admissions policy, or curriculum in order to receive the program’s reimbursement dollars.

Private school tuition in North Dakota is, on average, far less than what the state pays public schools per pupil. A study by the Friedman Foundation found that school choice programs save states money even when accounting for public schools’ “fixed” costs. These savings can then be plugged back into a state’s education budget and spent on students still in public schools.

The bill was referred to the House Education Committee where it awaits a hearing.

What do we have to lose?

Participation in the choice program proposed in House Bill No. 1532 is voluntary. If a family is satisfied with their local public school, they can continue utilizing that learning environment for their children’s education. But there are limitations to a top-down system, and academic achievement data show it’s not working for all North Dakotans.

We have data that tell us choice programs don’t “drain” public schools; we have data that tell us choice programs don’t hurt the students who remain in the public schools (they even benefit!); we have data that choice programs improve academic outcomes for their participants; we have data that choice programs aid disadvantaged students, including those with special needs and those from low-income backgrounds. And the list goes on.

Let’s make access to the learning environment that will help a student succeed a reality in North Dakota.